Who Are We Playing? Mix-And-Match Blues Host Blackhawks

The St. Louis Blues will have a much different look about them when they take the ice this afternoon for a Presidents’ Day tilt with the Blackhawks. Despite the trades involving marquee players on the east coast garnering all the media attention, the Blues have easily been one of the most active teams in the last week.

Absent from the Blues are former 1st-round draft selection defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Jay Clement (shipped to Colorado) and the Blues’ CAPTAIN Eric Brewer (traded to Tampa Bay). Added to the lineup are forward Chris Stewart and young defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Avalanche. 2010 3rd-round pick defenseman Brock Beukeboom was also acquired from the Lightning, but is not NHL-ready.

To top it off, starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak was placed on injured reserve due to an injury to his stick hand suffered in practice on Wednesday. Now, for those of you who have tried on an NHL caliber blocker, you know you have to work pretty fuckin’ hard to injure your *stick* hand when it’s covered by one of those things. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to do that, must have been the most bizarre of flukes. The ranks of the wounded also include Dave Scatchard and David Perron, both out since late fall.

With Halak out, we will likely be facing Ty Conklin in goal today with 6′ 7″ Ben Bishop riding the pine in the backup role. Almost wishing we could see Bishop in action, just to get a look at what Zdeno Chara would look like with goalie equipment on.

Despite the chaos in the Blues’ locker room, they are on a short roll: 3 straight wins in the last week, including a 9 – 3 slaughter of the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday that featured two goals by newcomer Stewart. I guess the threat of packing up and moving in the next 7 days is keeping them on their toes. The Blues are 3 points behind the Blackhawks in the standings, and 6 points out of a firm playoff spot.

So for the Blackhawks, once again, this is a four-point game. Colorado is starting to fade in the standings, joining Edmonton in the also-ran category if they lose 5 or 6 more games down the stretch. That leaves 11 teams, including both the Blackhawks and Blues, chasing those last 6 spots in the West. Let’s be realistic, both Vancouver and Detroit are out of reach and will stay that way.

The Blackhawks come into today’s game fresh off an afternoon seat-of-their-pants victory, in which they blew a 3rd-period lead with 3 minutes to go, and had to rely on Patrick Kane undressing Marc-Andre Fleury like a Rush Street bar skank in the shootout to take home the extra point. This followed a disappointing showing on Friday against a Columbus team that could easily have been beaten were it not for the Blackhawks’ defensive lapses and a heroic goaltending display by Steve Mason. Not what you’d call a weekend to remember.

On top of that, yesterday’s other games didn’t lean in the Blackhawks’ favor either. Minnesota managed to squeak out a point by pushing Detroit to a shootout; and Calgary blanked Montreal 4 – 0 while freezing their wank-tanks off outdoors in the Heritage Classic. Chicago is chasing both of those teams for a playoff spot, and the two points they can earn this afternoon are now very important.

With Head Coach Joel Quenneville now resting at home and Assistant Coach Mike Haviland still holding the reins, expect a lineup that looks precisely like the one we saw yesterday, including Corey Crawford in net (which was just confirmed). It is likely that with the exception of games against Eastern Conference teams and the Western Conference also-rans, we will see Crawford get every start down the stretch. That gives the Blackhawks the best chance to win every night, and the coaching staff knows that.

The Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp-Patrick Kane line seems to be getting back into the groove that we’ve seen from that trio in years gone by. The newly-assembled line of Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa-Michael Frolik has all the makings of a game-changer, but has yet to deliver on that promise. Our bottom-six added Ryan Johnson back to the lineup after a stint on injured reserve, and the difference was palpable.

I’m still not sure I like the defensive pairings the way they are set up, as the Nick Leddy-Duncan Keith duo only seems to be beneficial for Leddy. Additionally, having our two muscle-men in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook together makes no sense whatsoever. Brian Campbell has continued his steady play, but now has the added duties of bailing out all of Jordan Hendry’s fuck-ups, something that will drag his game down if it continues. I don’t see these pairings helping us get closer to a playoff spot.

Our power play converted on two of five opportunities during the Minnesota win last Wednesday, but since then has been held scoreless — even surrendering a shorty against Pittsburgh. Our penalty kill has not won any prizes of late either, and currently sits fifth-worst in the league at 78.5%. Another area of weakness that does not bode well for a late-season playoff run.

Long and short, a lot of things have to come together. Today would be a good time to take some first steps.

Ridiculous-early 1pm weekday start, I guess they figure people have the day off today for some stupid reason. I know I don’t. TV coverage is a grab-bag for Blackhawks fans all over the midwest and Canada: WGN-TV locally; Fox Sports Midwest around the Great Lakes region; and it’s a coast-to-coast broadcast on the NHL Network Canada. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 205.

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